joy | hope

it comes in moments, often when you're not expecting it. it came for me the other day, walking up the stairs of a church, my soon-to-be new home. i stopped near the top of the stairwell, a few steps to go. i could hear soft chatter echoing from down the hall and the crisp pulses of a broom on hardwood floor. the gate before me was swung open. that gate that had for so many years remained locked. activity filled rooms and halls that have long been dormant. dust that was once still now clouded the air.

it was all of those things that brought it. and yet it also wasn't any of them. that's a funny thing about joy. you can't always necessarily find its source. which makes its conspicuous absence at times all the more difficult. where do you go to find it again? one thing seems certain to me: it cannot be found by searching for it. try to recreate circumstances, try to find contentment in any situation, try to will yourself to feel it, try to find something new--none of these will really lead you there.

which makes it all the more tricky when it comes on you all of the sudden. you have to pause. you have to take a deep breath and let your eyes twinkle, for once you move again it rescinds--not gone but something more subtle. once it is there it can be recalled, but with increasing difficulty as time goes on. these moments are something unique, a gift you only rarely find.

this is nothing new of course. c.s. lewis described such a moment for him in his book "surprised by joy," the spiritual autobiography of sorts of him coming to God. there is something in these simple moments that is crucial to life. they do not create the substance of what makes your life rich, but like the pinch of salt in a batch of cookies sets the taste just right.

and we are all going to need that salt. of course in the midst of many trials and hardships, of many disappointments and failures, of many losses. in the dry seasons, when joy is far from your heart. the slight break in the clouds on a cold day as you feel the sunlight on your face for only a moment. these are the tastes of joy.

joy has always been a hard thing for me. i don't know how to understand it. i don't know how to have it in the midst of suffering, beyond these simple gift-like moments. i do not know how to rejoice as things seem bleak. i do not know how to enjoy life when it is not happy. the trite ideas don't seem to connect for me.

i believe one thing though--it is in some way deeply connected with hope. i used to be all about hope. had grand plans of writing a book about it in fact--still do somewhere in the back of my mind. in fact i sort of believe that someday i still will. a little piece of hope remaining. but who can know true hope without experiencing deeply crushing despair and shattered expectations? is that necessary to have hope? it's something one of my favorite books explores, and i still don't know what i think about it.

the real challenge is learning to choose hope when you realize that there is much to fear. i mean really realize it. you may know cognitively the risks, but until you've experienced the pain and consequences of a fallen hope, you will not be able to stand up again and hope in the face of fear. hell, i don't know if you can do it even if you have experienced that shattering--especially many times. the heart can only take so much. i used to believe that the more you give away in love the more you are--that the losses you take only come back as something more beautiful and rich when God remakes your heart. i don't know about that. i've expressed my doubts about this before, and i don't know how deep the breaking of that ideology goes.

but maybe hope does not find its value when it is realized. maybe hope is proved true when it is renewed even after it has been lost and it has let you down over and over. or is that simple foolishness? because the "it" we're talking about here is of course more than simple fate and destiny. no, who has much faith to put in that? but a person, the person of God who we believe is good. and the fight to uphold his goodness in the midst of shattered hopes, though you know they may be flawed because they are yours and not His--those cognitive things won't help much, and though you hope in the Lord ultimately you must hope in other things as well to live on this earth, that is the fight of hope.

it gets messy with theology--what does God have control over and what does God let people choose? for he may lead you into something that ultimately does not end well by your understanding, and in our sight that leading can seem cruel and sadistic--was it all for your own sake? nope, won't buy the personal growth excuse. that's not a kingdom mentality. i believe it's more apocalyptic. the world is at war and sometimes God says "well we had to try didn't we?" but if God has foreknowledge then how does this make sense? well like i said, messy theology. i don't want to go there right now. that's a discussion topic, not a dissertation topic.

so how do we fight for hope? i don't know. you should ask someone who's winning that battle a little more often. no, on second thought i might venture to say that they then might not be hoping enough. or they've just been a lot more lucky or fortunate or received more of God's grace there. maybe talk to someone who has fought the battle longer, and endured many defeats but still is standing strong. i don't know where to find these people. i suspect many of them don't wear their scars on their sleeves, so to speak. but they are out there, right? or is it only the lucky ones who survive?

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